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Isuzu Gencars: Good people, great brand

Building an enterprise requires an immeasurable amount of skill, daring, and more than a handful of patience to get the job done. There has to be cooperation in a team, a level of harmony in the effort, and a huge dose of innovative ideas which serve as a lighthouse in an otherwise turbulent ocean of competitors.

The automobile industry is one such ocean of contenders competing for the attention of buyers. In fact, one of its most lucrative years has yet to be realized. In 2015 alone, the auto industry was estimated to be worth US$1,653.7 billion with a ball park sales figure reaching 81.5 million vehicles by the end of 2018.

The pivot of car manufacturers to the affluent Asian market in recent years anticipates an even bigger growth in the coming decades. China, for example, has shown that as a market, it can be a formidable centerpiece for sales with a staggering 28.9 million vehicles sold only last year. That’s a fourth of all the estimated vehicles yet to be sold globally by the end of 2018.

In the Philippines, manufacturers and distributors of automobiles fear that higher excise taxes, run-amuck inflation, and increasing fuel prices may cause a slowdown in the sales. This, however, doesn’t stop Isuzu Gencars sales executives from pushing their brand.

They trust Japanese ingenuity and skill in manufacturing vehicles, and with their generous margin of personal service, clients can rest assured that they’re not only getting more than their money’s worth of automobiles, with it comes a very personal touch.

One such executive is Ellen Go, Showroom Sales Supervisor of Isuzu Gencars Makati. She stands in many ways as an urban legend in the sales department, offering her brand of sales pitch which helped her win over the competition for the last 21 years.

It all began when Ellen’s husband passed away. In order to help Ellen cope in her time of grief, Isuzu Gencars President and CEO D. Edgard A. Cabangon designated her to be a sales executive for Isuzu. She came in with hardly any experience in sales, but her natural patience and skill in communicating her brand catapulted her in no time to the top of Isuzu’s sales team.

“I have four children,” Ellen told the Graphic. “If I end up as an ordinary nine-to-five employee in an office, with my husband gone, I will not be able to make ends meet. When boss Edgard and I met, he asked me what job I wanted. I said I wanted to be a sales executive for Isuzu. He immediately agreed. The next day, I saw myself working for Isuzu.”

Ellen said that her 21-year stint as sales executive had brought her to different kinds of people. She spent most days in the Isuzu Gencars showroom as the in-house sales executive, entertaining the needs of walk-ins and callers who wish to buy a vehicle.

The timing was perfect: it was the heyday of the SUVs and AUVs, and Isuzu had a line ready for pitching. With actor Edu Manzano as celebrity endorser of the Isuzu Highlander, she knew well enough that selling the brand would be easy. Suffice that the walk-ins and phone-ins came in droves, keeping her on her toes for the next several months.

When the Isuzu Crosswind became available in the market, it only boosted her sales even more. Several clients bought vehicles for personal use while others in bulk.

Ellen’s day begins, she said, around six in the morning when calls arrive with clients literally begging to meet her and talk about the latest Isuzu models. Although the brand Isuzu is more than enough to convince the client that they are getting their money’s worth, a lot goes into how the agent deals with the client on a personal level.

To Ellen, personal client care is important. Quality of the product must equal the character of the sales executive, or else the pitch will die a natural death. In Ellen’s 21-year experience, her personal touch has earned for her a 95% batting average.

“Eight out of ten would seal the sale immediately,” she said. “I would be able to convince the other two given some time. The secret is not only to know the product you’re selling, you must also learn to adjust to who your client is. You must learn to talk and you must also learn to listen. They have to trust you as well as the product, to feel at ease in your presence. That takes a lot of patience, adjustment and know-how.”

For Isuzu Gencars Sales Supervisor Rommel San Gabriel, being a people person really helps in the daily campaign to sell a vehicle. As field agent, his job is more demanding, more along the lines of going out of his way to talk to people about the Isuzu brand. This is where skill and training come in really handy.

Fortunately for Rommel, he has had some initial training. “I belong to a family of salesmen,” he said. “My Dad, elder brother and a cousin all worked for competitive car companies. So, you could say that growing up I had had some training in sales. When I approached my father and asked him about selling my brand Isuzu not in the showroom but out there, he said, ‘Son, the real money is out there.’ So, I learned more about the product in order to be able to easily convince people about it. I also did not limit myself to selling to individuals. I honed my sights on corporate accounts. Bulk sales. Fleets of vehicles.”

Rommel recalled his first years on the job where he was accosted by security outside a building for distributing his business card and brochures to corporate offices there.

“I didn’t know it was the policy of building administrators not to allow sales people like me to distribute product information there,” he recalled. “And so, I was accosted out the building. I wanted to make the most of the situation since I’m already inside the building for an initial scheduled meeting. I knocked on office doors, talked to people, and they were there to accommodate me. A few, however, did not like it and reported what I did to the administrators.”

Rommel said he loves a good challenge, even if it takes knocking on individual doors and facing people he hardly knows. In one of his trips to the big city during a delivery, he saw the huge homes in a gated community. Rommel took it as his cue. He began knocking on the doors, giving out brochures and business cards. At other times, he would leave the brochures and other printed information on the windshield of parked cars.

These are the struggles of the street salesman.

The really difficult part is opening up to strangers which may or may not respond favorably even to friendly conversation. “That’s the hard part: to be really patient. Not all people are predisposed to talking to strangers. To them, I am that stranger. So, an effective salesperson must have a tankful of patience. Would you believe that we have clients that ask the most impossible things? Like ‘For the price I paid, don’t I get this and that accessory? Can you please add this and that into the sale?’ While we all want to close a deal, of course, we can only do so much. Sometimes I feel like a seller in a wet market [laughs]. But we still do the best we can to accommodate possible requests.”

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, Rommel said, he’s able to pinpoint specific problems relating to the Isuzu brand of vehicle he had just sold. “There are clients who, after a week or two of using the vehicle, would contact me and say it’s busted. He or she would flare up and blame it on us. Of course, that’s what the warranty is for, no problem there. We can also find out the real problem using the ECU. It’s a computer box which tells you how fast or how slow you drove the car. Not all drivers are conscientious or good drivers. Some are reckless, only to blame us in the end for their incaution. Thanks to technology, we can actually find out the real reason for their complaints.”

Competitive brands compel Rommel to triple his efforts. His secret is to never badmouth another brand.

“No use badmouthing another brand,” Rommel insisted. “A good sale happens if you know your brand like the back of your hand. An effective sales person must know his product inside and out. If you know your brand through and through, you don’t even need to badmouth your competition. Besides, badmouthing another brand could turn off your client, if and when he also owns the brand you’re badmouthing. It could scratch his ego. I’ve learned in 18 years of experience never to hurt my client in any way.”

Another crucial advice he gives sales people is to never run after the money during the pitch. “My real secret is to adjust to my client’s budget. I don’t force him to buy a vehicle he can’t afford. If I do, both the client and me will have serious long-term problems. I want my clients to be able to afford the vehicle and sustain his payments. If not, I would end up selling in the short term the car I just sold. When crunch time comes, some clients even borrow money from me to pay for the monthly payments. That would be impossible for me to sustain.”

For Rommel, nothing beats offering what he can deliver. “It’s all about the brand and the quality of the brand. Just offer what you could deliver. Just be honest, be sincere, offer what you could deliver. If I sell a truck, I won’t exaggerate. If I’m selling a truck that can haul eight (8) tons, I won’t say it can haul 10 tons. Honesty, in sales, is still the best policy.”

Isuzu Gencars’ Executive Vice President Lerma Nacnac’s thirty-six years in the industry had brought her face to face with other challenges that confront the company. Rising from the ranks as receivable clerk to executive vice president, she specifically dealt with managing the finance.

“I manage the inventory,” she said. “I monitor it closely. When you say ‘inventory,’ it involves millions of pesos. My work is to make sure the whole corporate machinery is well-oiled and functioning on the financial level. I also look after all our branches. We have seven branches. Been EVP for two years. Thank God everything is still running smoothly [laughs].”

One of the crucial challenges Lerma has to face on a daily basis is the handling of people. She said not all employees are quick to the draw. There will always be those who need a little help, a much-needed boost, a nudge. Even after clear instructions, some fall shy of a quick and effective response. She deals with it by being forbearing and good-natured, well-nigh patient to the point of being angelic. She takes the time to listen, which to her is a crucial part of running the show.

“I try as much as possible to understand where they are coming from,” she said. “I used to belong in their ranks. I know what they are going through. And so I listen, oftentimes even lending them a sort of system to use to be able to do their jobs. I help them find the root cause of the pronlem, even going out of my way to remind them of their backlogs and how best to deal with them. Not all follow instructions very well. I encourage the people not to deal with their corporate problems alone, even personal ones. I want to help them solve their problems, be they personal or corporate. That’s difficult, but not impossible. I don’t want any of them to carry their load alone and without any means of assistance.”

The real challenge, Lerma said, is to maintain integrity on the job. As finance officer, she serves as conduit for millions. This strong sense of integrity keeps her on her toes, and the company running smoothly. Without integrity, she said, things can fall apart with the flick of a finger.

“I’m generally an honest person,” she said. “It’s my best policy on the job. I will account for the littlest centavo. That’s how things should be done in any company, more so where I work. I’m not predisposed to lie. You have to be faithful to what you’ve been given. Never ruin your name for money. Do that and you will suffer for life. I believe this to be true in any situation. Practicality also demands it. The automobile industry is a small industry where almost everyone knows everyone. If they find out you’ve not been honest with your job, with the resources entrusted to you, you won’t be able to find a job. It’s as pratical as that. Honesty is still the best policy for me.”

Lerma stressed that dealing with the people with a level of integrity helps them deal with the daily grind. While she cannot accommodate all, Lerma said she tries very hard to reach for many in the company who seeks her assistance.

“You have to be approachable,” she said. “The owner of the company is highly approachable, so who am I not to be approachable? You have to be an open door. Always and every day. You must also be ready with solutions to problems. You must be able to get these solutions by calling into service all the years you’ve put into the job. I don’t tell them how to do the job per se. I tell them that if I am in your place, this is how I will do it. I expect the other to derive his or her own solutions from there. I feel it’s a better way of teaching them how to accomplish their tasks for the day without being bossy.”

Lerma’s concern for the employees under her supervision does not in any shape or form compromise whatever task they must do for themselves and for the company. “A really effective employee must know when to start doing things for himself and for the company. Things may be difficult, but the help each one extends to the other does not encourage a beggarly attitude The goal is to teach them to initiate, to move and decide on their own. We are all in the learning process, and I expect the same for myself.”

Lerma recalled the time when her boss, D. Edgard A. Cabangon, helped her cope with a serious family problem. His assistance helped Lerma to overcome the grief and sustain an integrity in the job that people quickly acknowledged. She now aims to extend the same assistance to others, not only help the company but to assist the employee on a more personal level.

“It’s not all work in the same way that it’s not all play,” she said. “We all have a function and purpose to fulfill. I want people to know that with Isuzu Gencars, the real secret of its success in the last 40 years is that it’s a company who cares for its people. Only then can these people bring this caring attitude to their clients.” G




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